I'm Smartiboo from London. I've been Qyping since 12-11-2009
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8 Formosa Street, London W9 1EE
04-05-2011 (updated on 21-05-2013)
Red Pepper is the Queen of Little Venice eateries, by a long shot. It’s been here for quite some time now, as far as I can remember; appearing out of nowhere, sometime during my teens, and this, coinciding with that particular era, holds many a memory for me (both good and bad), ones which are firmly embedded somewhere deep within the thorny hedgerows of Maida Vale’s memory lane. When I happen to pass it nowadays (which is not very often, but still), it all comes flooding back to me, sentimentally secular chunks of my life, certain stages, reeled out in front of me, like a montage of memoried moments. It’s weird how places (and music) can do that to a person.
I remember when it opened, I think around the early 90’s, and I definitely remember each and every meal I had there, that’s for sure. It’s what Little Venice had been gasping for, for absolutely ages. A high quality, cosy, local eatery, that wasn’t too posh, wasn’t too complicated, wasn’t too intimidating or stuffy and that served wine by the bucket load (you have to bear in mind that Little Venetians are supposed to be sophisticated yeah?).
The fact that it was situated on Formosa Street, really added to it’s appeal and amplified it’s cosiness ten fold. Formosa St is a snippet of a cut-through street, Warrington Crescent’s tributary, trickling on the edge of Little Venice; a relic of a road that is basically frozen in time, Victorian time that is; you can literally smell the history in the air there. It’s a quiet side street, and this enables the restaurant to cater for those who want to dine outside. I think there’s at least two tables out the front, under the canopy. I haven’t been there for years, so I can only comment on how it used to be; but it looks pretty much the same as when I pass it now, so I’m not quite sure what the food is like nowadays.
The theme is Italian. Very Italian. An Italian pizzeria, with the focus on the actual Italian part. This was a cunning trick. Even Baldrick couldn’t see this one coming. He fooled everyone; the owner that is. He’s actually my neighbour, and he’s not even Italian. Nor is his accomplice, the lady that used to serve us back in the day when it first opened. These guys are Moroccans. You could’ve fooled me. I swear they used to greet us by saying “Ciao” and stuff like that. Hahahaha. I wonder what “Ciao” is in Moroccan. I only found out about it one night back in 1999 when I was hanging out with my brother and this dude on Clifton Road. The dude was a receptionist at the Collonade hotel and he knew the ins and outs of absolutely everything in the neighbourhood. He told us everything. Apparently the owner also owns the Green Olive, which is another local restaurant in the neigbourhood, along with a bunch of other ones too. Whatever the case, they played the Italian card so well that they managed to dupe the lot of us!!!
But apart from that, I remember the pizzas being absolutely delicious. They were cooked the authentic way, in a stone-wood fired oven, which at the time was a bit of a novelty. Nowadays, Basilico and the likes use the same technique, and deliver to your door, but back then, those kind of delivery companies didn’t exist, I don’t think.
There’s a ground level section with a big window, and a downstairs basement section. Downstairs you get the full view of the wood fire oven (wonderful during the wintertime), and it’s more private down there too; you can indulge in more heated conversations than you can do upstairs. Upstairs has the benefit of the front aspect window-view though, so perhaps up there is better suited to lunchtime-dining (whatever the case, this place is always full, so it’s not like you can be picky about where you get to sit (unless you make a reservation that is)).
The pizzas were so good, man. Thin and crispy with the full works of ‘Italian’ style toppings. You have to bear in mind that in Italy, ‘Pepperoni’ refers to peppers and stuff like that, whereas ‘Pepperoni’ as we know it, is in fact called ‘salami’. I’m not quite sure if they do it like that here though. Loads of wines to choose from; hearty full-bodied red wines that compliment the greasy food, of course.
Yes, it’s all coming back to me now. I remember this one time I was cycling past on my bicycle one night, when I spotted my psychiatrist dining in the window, with what can only be described as ‘a really hot chick’. He was not hot, may I add; definitey not hot. He looked like a bespectacled pin-striped Teletubby. He was chubby, certainly not a goodlooker, but a nice guy nonetheless. It was only the previous week that I was having a session with him in the hospital where he worked at, out in the countryside; and then voila!, I see him spending my psychiatric money on some steam-rolled Morrocan frizbees and tasty Tiramisus, in the company of a semi-sophisticated semi-pinstriped, stunningly fine-looking young filly. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had to stop and wave at him; didn’t want to be rude, and with this, his girlfriend lit up like a lightbulb, obviously finding it all terribly amusing (she probably thought we were part of the same ‘Bmx gang’ or something); but alas, he wasn’t so happy to see me; he’d been sussed out; looked like a deer that had just been caught-up in the oncoming headlights.
Then there was this other time, when I was dining outside in the summertime with my father and my brother, when my brother began to goad me continuously throughout my meal, with a highly offensive, deeply distressing, hurtful verbal onslaught. I tried to take it like a man for a short while, but he just wouldn’t stop; and everyone could hear. It was just so embarrassing. So I stood up, grabbed his chair, and flung him backwards onto the pavement so hard, that he looked like he’d just been wiped out by a Tsunami. He looked like a NASA space astronaut getting ready for take off; arms flailing at the side, legs dangling out front. Suddenly, this ‘gentleman’ who was in his 30’s and dining with a couple of male friends behind us, leapt up and came to my brother’s rescue. “Hey you! What are you doing?! Stop that!!!!” (he said that to me, not to my brother). So I turned around and said “What the f**k you gonna do about it?!” and gave him a WWF-styled chest-pump right to his mid-section. He flew back at least a couple of yards, and then just stood there smiling, almost bemused by my reaction, but also by the fact that I was half his height, half his age, and was able to propel him through the air a good few feet backwards or so.
Now dont get me wrong, I’m not saying that there’s something in the food here that makes you violent, but there’s definitely shall we say a ‘buzzing atmosphere’ here. But it’s also very laid back in there as well, retaining a formal dining ethos. The obligatory ‘table-for-two’ malarki is obviously inevitable, as is the whole “would you like to read the wine list, sir?” act that follows. But none of these formalities detract from the overall relaxed approach to dining that you can experience in here. It’s really comfy, man (despite the wooden chairs), especially downstairs. There’s one gem of a table which is situated in it’s own semi-secluded alcove (with a view to the brick-oven); the perfect spot for a romantic (or private) dinner-for-two.
There was this one time, when my father and I were dining at the window on the ground floor. We were sitting next to a gentleman who had the table to himself and was seemingly enjoying his dinner just like the rest of us. He was the same age as my father, and they both had exchanged a few words here and there, not really a conversation as such, just a bit of a chit chat. So I thought I’d be friendly too and join in. So I said “HAVE YOU GOT A WIFE?”, and he just blanked me, like I was the invisible man; like I didn’t exist. He just sat there, stuffed a bunch of pizza into his mouth and started chewing on it like it was Cud. I think maybe I had inadvertently put my foot in it (not into his mouth). I don’t know why I even bothered, I was only trynna be friendly. (When you don’t talk to people you get accused of being antisocial, and when you do talk to them, you end up putting your feet into their mouths).
But anyway, if you live in Little Venice, then you will love this place no matter what. I mean, a couple living in a say 2-bed (or even a 1 bed) apartment on the Warrington Crescent, would only just have to stumble out of their Doric temple, stroll across the road, and hey presto!, they got the full works waiting for them; pizzas, wines, ice creams, coffees, canopies, Moroccans, Mock-Italians, ‘Cud-munchers’, Psychiatric-Teletubbies, ‘Gentlemen’, Tarts, tarts, rowdy Teenagers, Tiramisus, Indian aristocrats, the whole lot; it’s all there, ready and waiting. They can get sloshed without having to worry about how they’re going to get home. Definitely a couples’ place. Mind you, large families are catered for too as well, with their big round tables.
But my fondest memory of this place, was when I went there with my personal tutor (an aristocratic 30-something-yo Indian man called Selva) one icy-cold mid-week winter night, and we took that special table downstairs by the fire, and watched our dinner being hand-made right before our very eyes. We had two bottles of wine that night as well!!! Then right at the end, the waiter asked us if we would like some coffee. So I remember turning to Selva and asking him if it was an ‘urban myth’ whether or not Caffeine does in fact sober you up. I speculated that surely the Caffeine would only just add to the ‘high’ of being drunk as opposed to negating the overall effect; and due to it’s diuretic properties, would probably add to the dehydration caused by the getting drunk as well. He agreed. “Does Caffeine sober you up Selva?”, I asked. “Nooooooooooo, don’t be silly, it just increases the buzz a bit.” Ahhhhhhhh, now that makes more sense; the waiter was just trying to increase the final buzz… a bit…
31 Sussex Place, London W2 2TH
25-03-2013 (updated on 20-05-2013)
So like I had this dream; it was Olympic summertime, and having just slightly mis-timed my daily exercise routine, was craving for some food a little too early on in the eve. It was still afternoon; so I thought "ahh what the hell", and loaded up the Hungryhouse website onto the lappy. A quick glance down the Chinese section, and I noticed a new arrival in town, 'Maximini', sitting there unceremoniously amongst the usual crowd. Motif-less and review-less, I was a positively skeptical at first, but thought "ahh what the hell" and started tapping away at my order like I was performing Sergei Rachmaninov's concerto in D minor.
It seemed rather pricey with quite a lot of double-figures floating about the menu on the right hand side; and it had a slighlty unconventional bohemianish approach to the style of dishes that were on offer; sort of 'a la carty style'; but I just thought "ahh what the hell, I'm hungry, I dont care, I just want to eat".
After I had placed the order, I started doing a bit of Googling, just to find out a little bit more about the restaurant's location and history. It was telling me that the restaurant was owned by Jimmy Choo, and was situated right next to the thru-the-park entrance down by the Hyde Park estate. Jimmy who? Jimmy Choo. Jimmy Choo? Wasn't that the name of the shoes that the lead character in the televison show 'Sex and the City' had a fetish for? I swear it was... Naaaa, it can't be, must be a coincidence or something.... So I sat back and waited for my food.
About half an hour later, a jet-black £100,000 Mercedes limo-tank rolled up on the set and parked right outside the front of my house. I took cover behind the curtains, because it looked like a drive-by was just about to be in progress. Peeping from behind the curtains, and in fear of getting sprayed with Chili Squids, I spotted the driver jump out of the car, holding what appeared to be a large white carrier bag. "This must be my Chinese delivery?", I thought to myself. The driver was an attractive, very athletic-looking young oriental woman, who had a body that put Fatima Whitbread to shame. "Wait a sec, what's going on here?" Jimmy Choo? Fatima Whitbread delivery? £100,000 blacked-out Limo? This is London, man, it happens; just let it roll.
The food was out of this world. And after I had finished my meal, I decided to go and do some more Googling about the place. Turns out that this restaurant really is owned by the fashion designer Jimmy Choo. Jimmy who? Jimmy Choo!!! So yeah, I guess that makes me forty-fifth-cousin-thrice-removed to the feet of the lead actress in the television show 'Sex and the City'.
Ahh, what the hell.
Crispy Squid Julienne : This is prepared Calamari style, with the Squid cut into large rings and deep fried with a cripsy battered coating. It is accompanied by a spring-onion based salad, which is utterly delicious in its own right. Plenty of Chili heat radiates throughout, with the fragant salad adding a summery lightness to the whole ensemble. The flavours work very well together, but if you prefer to eat the Squids by themselves, they can be quite easily extracted from the dish without having the flavours from the salad tarnish them. A different take on the usual Salt n Chili Squid, but delicious nonetheless.
Penang-style Stir-fry Flat Egg-noodle Rice: I tried this fried noodle dish out as a change to my usual favourites; and it quickly became one of my usual favourites. I didn't really understand what it was the first time I ordered it, thinking it may have been some sort of Egg fried Rice but with the actual rice pieces being squashed or something; but what it is, is a tagliatelle-style flat noodle, stir-fried with some juicy Prawns, bits of Egg, and a scattering of Beansprouts. It's really easy to eat too, with the noodles being so fat that you just spear your fork right into them, give it a twiddle and you got a massive mouthful ready and waiting. The Prawns are oversized, and are usually two or three; really juicy. Beware though, because there is a delayed fiery chilliness present throughout, which you never would have guessed was coming; almost makes your eyes water, almost. Tip: this dish goes unbelievably well with the Sweet N Sour Pork, the flavours working together in harmony, bringing the best out of each other.
Special Fried Rice: Pretty straight forward, well prepared generously ingrediented mixed fried rice, with loads of medium sized Shrimps, fried Egg, bits of Char Sui and all the usuals. It has a very slightly different texture to the rice than the expected Chinese style fried rice, sort of like the 'wholemeal' version of the rice, if one were to give an analogy. It's still white, but just has that hint of earthyness to it. By accident, I once received a Special Fried Rice which was very sticky, and literally mouthwateringly delicious. I say by accident because out of the thirty or so mixed fried rices I've had, this one was the stickiest. But either way, it's a surefire hit.
Sweet N Sour Pork: Omg omg omg.....Mmmmmmm. MMMMMMM. YUM YUM YUM. Is there such a thing as a Sweet N Sour Porkgasm? No? Well there is now. Definitely one of the best Sweet N Sour Porks I have ever tasted. I was totally blown away the first time I tried it, and still am everytime I order it. Very chewy, very tasty; the batter is exemplary, and the Pork is tasty. Much to my delight, the ratio of meat-to-veg is relatively high, which is clearly noticable after the last bite of Pork; you realize that there is very little veg left in the dish. The veggies are only used for flavour, which means more room for Pork; just how I like it. The sauce is just about right, with a slight bite to it on the sour side, and plenty of fruitiness on the sweet side. Can it get any better? Yes it can.... They can even customize the dish to your liking. I asked for extra-chunky cuts of Pork, and guess what, I got it!!! That was pretty awesome if you ask me.
Grilled Pork Dumplings: Much bigger than the average size; well, noticebly bigger. A rich flavour coming from the filling within, which has a complex multi-layered theme to it, as opposed to being more uniform in taste. I wouldn't be surprised if these were home-made. Charred on one side to give a firmness to the soft sticky dough, these dumplings taste just great.
Deep fried Salt N Pepper Jumbo Prawn: Wowzers!!! These mamas are about the same size as Pelican feet. I was very apprehensive about ordering this for the first time, because of the £14.90 price tag (I can hear your gasps). You get two mamouth Jumbo Prawns which are butterflied still intact, then deep fried and tossed with Garlic, Chili, Salt N Pepper. You also get that Julienne style salad that comes with the Squid dish, which being delicious, makes up for half a meal already. They really are quite big, and quite weighty too. Biting through one, reveals about 3/4 of an inch of pure white prawn flesh, which is something in itself. The batter is as expected; excellent, and the flavours are simple, striking and bold; nothing fancy here. You could couple this dish with the Pacific Prawn rice dish and have yourself a Prawn bonanza if you like.
Pacific Prawn Fried Rice: Pretty much the same as the Special fried rice, but with double the amount of Prawns. This gives the rice a slightly more Prawnier flavour overall, and makes for a seriously high protein supposedly carb dish.
Quarter Fragrant Crispy Duck with Pancakes: Notice the inclusion of the adjective 'fragrant' in the title. This is no advertising ploy, the Duck really is fragranced like a French boudoir. I was really surprised actually. I was just going through the motions of yanking the Duck leg out of the white foil bag, slapping it down on the plate, ripping the pancake packet open like a packet of crisps, and taking the lid off the vegetable container, but it was when I went over to dig my fingers into the side of the Duck leg, that I realized that this was no ordinary Crispy Duck with Pancakes. My fingers slipped right into the meat, as if it was warm butter. So as far as the texture was concerned, this was truly something unique. Then when the fragrance hit me (in the mouth), I just sat there in silence, totally spellbound, gently nodding my head up and down in admiration, as I chewed the whole lot up. Hands down the best Crispy Duck and Pancakes I've ever had, and that includes god knows how many I've had in China Town and in expensive hotels overseas. The Duckmeat must be some sort of organic farm-raised stuff; but despite its origins, you can tell this has been prepared with thought and care. If you look closely at the skin of the duck before mashing it up, you can clearly see the fragrancing, with the herbs/spices being engrained into the skin itself. Even the Pancakes seem a slight cut above the rest, with a noticeable marbled-effect to them, as opposed to the plain matt beige appearance commonly found. Really really good stuff.
Braised quarter Duck with Monks vegetables: I'm not a great fan of braised Duck, because I prefer my meat to be chewy. But the flavour of this one more than makes up for the lack of chewiness the braising can induce. You also get a whole separate container filled to the brim with monks vegetables, which are large-cut and bursting with different flavours.
Vietnamese Spring rolls: Again, in tune with the whole 'larger than average' thing going on at this restaurant, these spring rolls are a good 3/4 inch thick in diameter and have a crispy ornate exterior that wraps up a modestly flavoured interior. Best had first off, as the flavour is somewhat milder than the other flavours found on the menu.
Chicken Fried Noodle: Not quite what you would expect flavourwise, with a sort of chargrilled taste resonating throughout the dish. Kind of like a smokey flavour. The noodles are the thin yellow egg version, and the chicken is shredded and spread throughout. Could do with a bit more chicken, and perhaps some other fillings, and less of the smokey flavour, which is by no means off-putting, but more like an acquired taste; similar to the Guinness effect.
Singapore Fried Noodle: Never got the chance to taste this one, because my Filipino housemaid stole it. But as far as looks are concerned, it certainly looked the part. UPDATE: Subsequently have had the chance to taste this one. Superb composition, with big lashings of all the components, each trying to out-do the other in the flavour department. A firecracker.
Complimentary: Big bag of prawn crackers and a small pot of Chilli Oil.
SUMMARY: The final bill will most definitely be larger than what you are used to paying for, for local Chinese deliveries, but it is absolutely worth it. They've even got a discount going on now, so that makes it even more worthwhile. The delivery service is prompt, and the food always hot and nicely packaged. Might be a bit of an expensive habit to start-up though, mind you, but like ahh, what the hell.
100 Boundary Road, London NW8 0RH
28-09-2012 (updated on 20-05-2013)
Crispy Squid Julienne : This was the best dish I ordered, but it was also the first one that I ate, so that factor may have been a contribution. Thin 'french fries' shaped strips of deep fried squid, which are tossed about with bits of sliced white onion, red chili peppers, and have some shredded carrot on top. There may be some garlic in there too. It was evenly balanced and well spiced, with the chili heat making a prominent standing. Not too oily, and fairly crispy, despite the steaming effect created by the plastic containers lid. The garnishings were tasty enough and were moderately allocated enough, that I actually ate all of it, which is very unusual for Chinese take-aways; I normally just pick out the prized chunks of meat etc and ditch the garnishings. So this dish was a very pleasant and refreshing starter. Sort of like a Squid salad.
Mixed fried rice : Very ordinary looking in appearance, with an understated look about it, and very modest sized chunks of Char Sui and shrimp making up the main additives of this rice dish. The taste however was far more rewarding than the visuals were, and this resulted in a very decent adequately tasting rice dish; with the small chunks of Char Sui packing quite a bit of flavour.
Sweet 'n' Sour Pork : Larger than average chunks of Pork cuts which was very welcoming at a glance, but the colour of the glaze covering the Pork pieces was just a tad off-putting. It had that cruddy colour and look about it. Flavour-wise, there was something not quite right happening in the Pork bits...There was a hint of I think 'cheesecake' or something similar? Which wasn't too bad, but didn't really tie in well with the rest of the flavours. Texture-wise, despite the cruddy dark brown appearance of the Pork bits, the batter was only fairly soft and only a touch chewy, but once through this austere exterior, the Pork cuts were very generous and extremely succulent. So it seems that they have the insides sorted, but not the outsides quite yet. Needs a bit of work this dish does.
Crispy shredded Chili Beef : Very thin and very crunchy strips of shredded Beef, which had all the correct dimensions, but were just a little off-key in the flavour department. The sauce for starters just seemed like a classic Sweet Chili sauce dolloped straight out from a supermarket brand bottle, and certainly wasn't unique in it's delivery. The strips were really crunchy and the texture overall was pretty good... But just had this overpowering flavour which I'm not sure what it was but may have been simply something like black pepper or similar... So this, coupled with the sweet chili, gave the dish a slightly commercial flavour, which wasn't too enticing. But overall, quite a pleasant dish. Not bad.
Spare ribs : These were pretty horrid, I'm very sorry to have to say. They were very short cut-offs of bones about the length of your pinky finger, but had absolutely masses of meat hanging off them. They were probably the meatiest microscopic spare ribs I have ever come across in my life. So as far as value-for-money is concerned in the meat department here, you're definitely getting it. But the flavour was pretty nasty to be honest. The colour wasn't that charming either; sort of looked like Freddy Kruger's skin, you know that sort of stretched raw-rubbed redness... And they were quite dry but chewy at the same time, which was a bit weird. The flavour was not nice at all; tasted something like raw cabbage or something earthy like that. Not very good at all.
The delivery was quick and the driver was friendly, and all the dishes were thoroughly hot.
I love comparing the different end products that all the Chinese delivery restaurants have to offer, and for me, the highlight of this meal was just that; being able to see and taste yet another version of some of my favourite Chinese dishes. It's wonderful seeing and tasting how different the 'same' dishes from different restaurants can be, unbelievably so.
Also, may I just point out, that I sensed a certain class about this food, and along with that, a feeling that there is a lot of potential lurking about the Hiro kitchen. The quality and expertise was evident, but the final product was just not to my liking. To give an analogy, it's like an expert tailor carving me up a perfectly-cut suit, but just in a colour and material which I don't like. Sort of something like that. I reckon Hiro could quite easily make me a suit to my liking.
Worth a try, but don't get your hopes up too high.
113 Boundary Road, London NW8 0RG
11-05-2013 (updated on 20-05-2013)
Boy does that name bring back a memory or two... I may have had my last meal here well over a two decades ago, but I never forget a good meal. These kinds of places never change, so I guess the food is as good now as it was back then; I bet my life on it. (Goetz can confirm that.)
Meghna Grill is a gloriously quaint, airy, invitingly cosy, sub-continental haven, that provides an inordinate amount of delectable Indian delicacies; cooked to perfection, and served with the utmost invisibly obeisant respect and warmhearted attentiveness. There is an effortless sense of charm in this restaurant; extremely eager to please, but in a masterfully passive sort of way.
I remember distinctly how the soft white/blue decor and immaculate service managed to seamlessly blend classic style with modern approach, managing to add a little bit of unobtrusive luxury to good old classic local 'Indian' dining. It was oh-so clean in there, sort of looked like a drained, carpeted Greco/Roman bathhouse, or something. It was whiter than white; pristine in appearance. The design and layout of the restaurant is a tried-and-trusted formula; with the mock 'bar' being the focal point of attention in the room, from whence you can summon a waiter, one who will always be posted there.
There was a smattering of ritualistic pomp and circumstance at the beginning of the meal, whereby at your chosen table, the old tablecloth (regardless of whether or not someone had even eaten there) would be demonstratively whipped-out, 'bull-fighter' style, and then promptly replaced 'Mary Poppins' style, with a fresh one, your one, just for you, with noticeably more time spent and more emphasis placed on, the laying of your tablecloth, than with the removal of the previous one. It is this kind of well-timed, showy but untroubling act of hospitality, that can add a touch of splendor to what is essentially just an evening's meal.
A proper local (you wouldn't be able to spot it unless you knew about it.); I wouldn't say it was hidden, but it is certainly 'off the beaten track'.
I will never forget the joy of watching the owner of Meghna Grill, tip-toeing up to and tentatively peeping out of the front window every now and again, as he kept an apprehensively watchful eye on the competition that had just set up camp across the way. He was monitoring the customer-flow of his newfound archnemesis, bless him, making sure that none of the faces, being lured into this apparent apocalyptic downfall incarnate, were familiar, belonging to any of his loyal, regular customers.
That was twenty years ago... Is he still peeping?! He's a peeping-Grill, he is. He must've installed some kind of periscope up the Victorian chimney-hole by now....Surely...All that time?! Maybe he's developed X-ray vision from twenty years of peeping across the road? Who knows? Maybe he can cook curry with his eyes, now that the lazer-beams are coming out of them after twenty years of perpetual peeping; he's a Super-hero, 'Meghna-man' to the rescue. He shouldda gone to spec-savers...
Well...There's no need to peep anymore, that is for certain (there was neither any need to peep back then), as Meghna Grill stands proud as a benchmark amongst benchmarks of fine, local, London Indian dining.
(Take heed: War and Peace menu alert.)
59 Old Brompton Road, Kensington, London SW7 3JS
12-05-2013 (updated on 20-05-2013)
In late 2009 I actually died, and a couple of weeks later, I went to heaven. Here, let me show you how: You see that big fluffy white cloud over there with that dude sitting on it with the really long silver beard? That's god that is. You see that magnificent imposing Victorianistic stucco-fronted corner house over there? That was home for a while, that was (not all of it, just a room in it). Now you see that supermarket over there, that contains beer in it? That's Tesco that is. And you see that Kebab house just across the road from it over there? That's Bosphorus Kebabs that is, one of the best kebab houses in the United Kingdom. Welcome to Heaven, I hope you have a pleasant stay.
Yes it is true, in 2009 I died and went to heaven. I was living next to beer and kebabs for about two years solid, and I have the pics to prove it.
Bosphorus Kebabs is more than just a legend, it is a local institution, the holy grail of South Kensington eateries. It's a very small, compact hole in the wall, with an open-plan BBQ/serving stall situated on the right hand side, and a glass cabinet out front, displaying a vast array of various cuts of meats, namely Lamb and Chicken. Inside this rectangular chamber, the decor of the walls is dictated by a hailstorm of posty-cards that have been stuck up linearly, with blutack/sellotape, depicting the memoirs and compliments of previous diners. The national identities of each of these customers is signed off on each postcard, and I don't think there is a major city/country that is not listed on these walls, such is the diversity of all these locations; it makes the United Nations look like an Amish colony. There are a couple of seated tables to choose from, including two which are situated outside, sheltered by canopy and warmed by red-light heaters, and a nifty secluded section tucked away right at the back, should you wish to eat with a little more privacy. It's always warm in there, no matter what the weather is like outside.
Your food is cooked-to-order, and comes with a couple of warmed Pitta-breads, and a combination of salad of your choice (Red Cabbage/Onion/Tomato/Lettuce), and of course, the obligatory Chili sauce (there are a bunch of other sauces as well). Everything is home-made here, and apparently, a whole Hogget (or two) is delivered each day at the crack of dawn, and chopped up by someone down in the kitchen, into the various cuts that you see displayed at the counter. A large proportion of this Hogget goes straight into the mincer, and the resultant squidge is seen revolving around at the front of the stall, in the form of the quintessential Donner.
As far as the other meats are concerned, the choice of Lamb comes in quite a few different guises. There is the standard Lamb Shish cubes, then a couple of variations on this theme including one skewered with vegetables, a spicy version, a Lamb 'burger' (which has some green herb stuffed in the center of it), a Lamb steak, and then the king of the cabinet, the Lamb Saddleback (this one comes with either a bed of basmati rice or pitta bread or both if you like). This is a personal favourite of mine, and it is more expensive than the others. It's delicious. Everything is carved up prior to serving, including the burger, so it's hard to differentiate one version from another after it's been cooked. But this makes for easy stuffing into the warmed pitta breads. Served in tinfoil containers, there inevitably has to be some sort of construction process the second you sit down, to build your kebab, which can be quite tricky slicing the Pitta bread open and butterflying it without fraying the edges.
On the Chicken side of things, they have two small buckets on the counter containing breasts of Chicken and the other one containing the juicier counterparts, thigh sections and the like. Both are soaked in a marinade that has oodles of flavour, and once you get a taste for the Chicken, it's sometimes hard to revert back to the Lamb, simply due to the tastiness of this mouthwatering marinade.
The secret ingredient here, which I was missing during my heavenly time spent at this place, is the simple inclusion of 'table salt' to your meats. I couldn't put my finger on it all that time, but something was 'missing' from my kebabs, and for the life of me I just couldn't figure it out. Salt. They don't add salt to the meats during cooking, so it is up to you to sprinkle some salt onto the end product. It makes all the difference. Remarkably healthy, there is quite a low fat content in all of the meats here, as most of it drains out into the grill, leaving mostly lean tender meat; this, coupled with the salad and plain bread makes for healthy eating; it's certainly not fattening.
Due to it's location, reputation and style, Bosphorus transcends the 'kebab house' status and moves more into the realms of 'meat-house' so-to-speak. It's not your average kebab joint, you know like greasy Donners dripping with fat and soggy salad; it's more refined than that. The most obvious way to experience this is to try the Donner kebab. It's completely void of any greasiness, but retains its firm but chewy Donner-meat texture, and is exploding with ingrained flavours sourcing from the seasonings. It fills the mouth with a scrumptious savoriness, that just leaves you wanting more and more and more.......and more. The fun thing about Donner is that if you get a particularly long streak, you can tilt your head back and dangle it above your mouth, perhaps waggling it around for a bit, before lowering it gently into the mouth inch by inch. You can perform this courtship technique on yourself, or if you are a lovebird, onto someone else. It's the Turkish equivalent of placing one end of a long string of Spaghetti into your lover's mouth, and the other end into yours, then both sucking simultaneously until your heads collide. Just thought I'd mention this, incase you were thinking of taking a date to Bosphorus Kebabs.
There's no alcohol here, not that you would need any here in a place like this, but there is a large drinks refrigerator that houses various canned soft drinks like Lilt, Tango, Coca Cola, water, and a very special yogurt drink, which is an absolute must if you're eating the kebabs, a milky white Lassi (yogurt mixed with salted water). These are very small, but having one or two of them as your meat is being cooked, is a nice way to fill the time, but more importantly, sets your mouth ready for the savoury onslaught. They have the opposite effect of quenching your thirst, they make you want to eat something instead, which is ideal in this scenario; and they taste just great.
The clientele here can easily be categorized into fairly obvious sets. There is without a doubt a colossal Imperial College following (I'd say the majority of the postcards on the wall are some way or other associated with that place); then there is a noticeable cabby/minicabby gathering, which is mainly around the late evening time; then there are the post-gym workout crowd who have realized that eating a good meal earlier on in the day works wonders on the body; then spates of the Kensington crowd (both French and English), who usually bombard the place in hoardes after the local pubs shut; the odd celebrity or two, who usually ramp up the Range Rover onto the pavement just outside to get the window service treatment; an extremely loyal and large American college following is evident; and pretty much everyone else in between. Everyone eats here, pretty much; apart from vegetarians.
Of course, it goes without saying that the location of Bosphorus has undoubtedly elevated it to regal status in the Kebab world, and it is certainly no easy feat catering for the demanding, mostly uppity Kensington crowd who frequent the place; and so the staff here are in numbers, a crew of at least twenty I would say (on different shifts of course). The owner, a sweet, diminutive, mature Turkish gentleman who can usually be seen manning the fort at around mid-day, set this place up decade upon decade ago; this is his baby. And if you notice at the front of the green canopy shading the front of the restaurant, you can spot a delightfully kooky misspelling of the word 'artificial', as the canopy lets all those who pass-by know, that Bosphorus contains 'NO ARTIFICAL ADDITIVES'....best admired through the Tesco window, preferably with someone who works for the Oxford dictionary. I often wonder about this misspelling; perhaps it was a private joke on their part, subliminally trying to tell the Kensington folk that they are a bunch of arty-farty fickle people. Maybe there wasn't enough room for another I?
Oh how I miss Bosphorus kebabs. But despite my love for this place, my general eating experiences here didn't always run as smoothly as I'd wanted them to. I found the service here to be just a touch on the coercive side of things, with just a bit too much enthusiasm for my liking. I suppose it all depends on what time you eat there, but if the remainder of your night reads like this 'kebab...brush teeth...bed', then the last thing you want to be doing is to be getting into a 'Hardtalk-cum-Question Time-cum-Mock The Week'-styled conversation with the guys preparing your food for you. You just wanna eat your food and hit the sack kinda thing. 9pm maybe.... But certainly not midnight....And I just found the demeanours of some of the staff (not all of them may I add) to be just a little too awkwardness inducing.....At times.
The following is an anecdotal list of the aforementioned culprits:
1) Bangkok-Bu**face - Bangkok Bu**face is a cool dude, youngish, extremely lively, but has a somewhat evident attitude problem when it comes to the customer-relations side of things. He can be extremely rude at times, but I feel that there is no genuine spite here and that the majority of his rude flurries are unintentional, more 'heat-of-the-moment orientated' sort of thing. He just makes it painfully obvious that he would rather be rolling around Long-beach in a quarter-of-a-million-pound convertible Bentley, with his best mate sitting in the passenger seat brandishing a sub-machine gun, 50-Cent blurting out from the speakers, and with three triple-G titted 'blonde babes' squirming around on the backseat dildoing each other's 'anae horribilatae' with various vibrating phallic-shaped rubberized instrumentation.....instead of cooking and serving me my gorgeous kebabs. And I have to bear the brunt and feel the full force of this unwanted sentiment. Granted, he's not always like this, and we have had numerous chinwags with each other, but I do feel that his bedside-manner needs to be addressed and toned down just a half notch.
To give illustration to what I mean, allow me to give you an example or two: Like there was this one time, a summer's late-week night no-less, when a group of heavily inebriated, scantily-clad, semi-naked American female students tumbled into the place, whereby one perched herself up against the wall facing the counter, and seemingly was a tad embarrassed or unsure, perhaps reluctant to connect two neurons together in her head in order to enable her to make a decision as to what to order to eat (if she even wanted to eat at all, that is); lustfully writhing around and grinding her backside up against the semi-postcarded wall in indecisiveness, she failed to come to any sort of conclusion, and quickly 'bailed out' from the Kebab House, frivolously stumbling off down the road and sparking a sheep-like reaction from the rest of the flocking comatose crowd. Upon being unable to gauge exactly what these girls had in mind to do, and being a young, virile man confronted with a rather attractive fleshy display of intoxicated vulgarity, Bangkok-Bu**face quickly leant over the counter and bawled out into the direction of the trailing backside of the lady in question, referring to her as a 'SKANK'. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but in most people's books, the term 'skank' is a disparaging, derogatory term is it not? An expletive. And according to Urban Dictionary.com, a 'skank' is:
Derogatory term for a usually younger female, implying trashiness, or tackiness, lower-class status, poor hygiene, flakiness, and a scrawny, pockmarked sort of ugliness. May also imply promiscuity, but not necessarily. Can apply to any race, but commonly used to describe white trash.
"You know that girl Crystal that lives in the trailor park? She's a total skank."
Now pardon me for saying, but is that really something that you want to be calling out to members of the public, possibly customers and the like? I think this was a slight oversight on Bankok-Bu**face's judgement, not really necessary. It's simply not done. No need for that type of behaviour...
Another time I was witness to Bangkok-Bu**face's lack of spontaneous verbal integrity, was like this one time, when I casually sauntered into Bosphorus one rainy midweek night, whereupon I noticed a rather fed-up grumpy looking mature Englishman (of working-class ilk), who was just sitting there waiting patiently for his food, all be it 'grumpily', whilst Bangkok-Bu**face was preparing it. Out of nowhere, and in front of me, Bangkok-Bu**face turned towards the man and posed the extremely offensive psuedo-rhetorically unnecessary question "HOW COME YOU ARE HERE ALL BY YOURSELF?", whereupon the grump replied "BECAUSE I HAVE NO FRIENDS AND NO-ONE LIKES ME." I must say, I did admire this man's quick-witted act of defensive self-depracation, but as with the previous scenario I described, I do feel that this was rather rude coming from Bangkok-Bu**face, and was totally out of line; again, completely uncalled for.
2) Billy-Bookworm - Billy Bookworm's eyes seem to have an agenda all to themselves. Each eye operates independently from one another as opposed to in unison with each other. For example, the left eye can wander off to the left in search of some visual entertainment, whilst the right eye remains in a fixed position, and vice versa. Billy Bookworm is essentially Turkey's answer to Worzel Gummidge. He portrays a wonderfully unkempt appearance, but in a clean, tidy sort of way. His eyes have a life of their own. When he talks to you, it is hard to decipher whether or not he is taking your order, or the person's standing next to you. Billy Bookworm used to be my favourite, until I fell victim to a short but unwelcome bout of his two-facedness, that quickly relegated him to the 'not-my-favourite-any-more' section. The reason I refer to him as Billy Bookworm, is that I was quite surprised to bump into him one day on the London Underground, and noticed that he was immersed in some sort of novel but not any old novel, like one of those Booker prize types of novels, a sophisticated one.... His eyes were all over the place, soaking up the words like there was no tomorrow. I really don't know why he turned on me that night, but it kinda ruined my kebab, on that particular occasion anyway.
3) The Jeff Capes Crips 'n' Bloods Gang-Banger - This guy is absolutely huge, tall and meaty looking, and quite intimidating at that. But what really sets this guy apart from the rest of the crew, is his extraordinarily deep coarse voice, that seems to have more decibels than 'Brown noise'. The soundwaves emanating from his mouth, quite literally pass through your body and head, similar to that of Gamma radiation; straight through, giving you a good rattle as they do. He, similarly to Bangkok-Bu**face, can be rude at times, but it is not an elaborate rudeness as in Bangkok-Bu**face's style, it's more of an abrupt grunt that simultaneously startles you and has you dumbfounded, pinning you back to the wall with a sonic blast-wave. It doesn't last long, if that's any consolation.
4) A particularly rude and antagonistically inefficient teenage guy - I had the misfortune of trying to relay my order to this chap, once, and in doing so, had to repeat my order no less that five or six times. Each time I repeated it, I said it that little bit clearer, that little bit louder, that little bit more focussed, until by the sixth attempt, I felt like I had turned into the 'Speaker of the House of Commons'. At the seventh or so attempt, I abandoned the effort, smiling wryly and of course disappointingly, and with a sigh of disbelief, I casually sauntered outside to one of the tables and sat down, whereupon five minutes later, my 'order' arrived, and he served it to me, complete with a grovelingly impromptu 'sorry sir' attached to it. So he did get my order after all didn't he? He got it the first time round didn't he? So he was just being funny with me wasn't he? For no apparent reason whatsoever. Okay, enough of him for now.
5) Kosovo Kream-Pie - Kosovo Kream Pie's head reminded me of a tombstone, or like one of the blocks in Stonehenge, such was it's shape and monolithic structural size. He, as with most of the others, could be very rude at times, but it was a passive rudeness, as opposed to an 'in-your-face' sort of rudeness. 'Surly' is the word here. There were times when he could be really nice, and one particular Saturday night I can clearly remember, when he excelled and exceeded all expectations by giving what can only be described as 'a performance of a lifetime', where his mannerisms and demeanour were just perfect, issuing out the kebabs like he was 'Jesus', passing around the broken bread.
6) King Ottoman the 2nd - King Ottoman the 2nd is, I believe, the son of the owner, and is in charge of all the operations so to speak. He's the main-man. The boss. Extremely enthusiastic and overly friendly, he will go out of his way to make sure he cheers you up somewhat and provide you with the tasty meal that you are there for. He, along with Bangkok-Bu**face and one or two of the others depending, like to have a good ole chinwag, and a bit of a laugh, which, if you are not in the mood for yourself, can be quite imposing and somewhat daunting, whereby you feel that you are obliged to join in the jovial banter and fire out the quick-witted retorts like you are a contestant on the 'Have I got news for you' show. Personally speaking, I would prefer a kebab joint to be run by a platoon of 'Omnibot 2000's' where the ordering of the food can be done with the minimum amount of hassle involved; but I guess that's another fifty years off from now, so I will have to bite the bullet for the time being. I get very touchy when it comes to my kebab-time; nothing gets between me and my kebabs; it really is a personal moment for me, when I like to eat like a pig and chow down three or four of them on the trot, in one sitting.
Oh how I miss Bosphorus Kebabs. If you live nearby, then you probably are not aware of it, but you are one of the luckiest people in the world to have this on your front doorstep.... Just bear that in mind next time you're sitting there munching on slices of pure Turkish heaven, and count your lucky stars that it is also in a 'punch-up free' zone as well...
18 Bute Street, London SW7 3EX
18-05-2013 (updated on 20-05-2013)
Fantastic little sandwich shop right in the heartland of South Kensington's French district, a strip known as Bute St (there's a morning market here every Saturday). Raison D'etre serve a wide range of freshly cut meats, hams, pastramis, that kind of stuff, including cheeses, along with a wide selection of other fancy sandwich-fillers, which you will inevitably have to ask "what's that one over there?" for most of the mixtures on show. Loads of different breads to choose from, with which to form your sandwich. There is of course, freshly ground coffee as well, on tap, plus other canned drinks etc.
It's a tad bit cliquey in there, and if you are not French, then you might feel like a bit of a gatecrasher. But it's worth biting your bottom lip for, as the sandwiches are absolutely divine. Be careful though, because they are also excruciatingly expensive; I don't think I've ever spent less than "£10" on a sandwich+drink in there, as each "topping/filler" comes with something like a £3.50 price-tag, or thereabouts. If you're a sandwich person, and you like your sandwiches turbo-charged with a Mediterranean twist, then this is the place to go.
10 Clifton Road, Maida Vale, London W9 1SZ
05-05-2011 (updated on 20-05-2013)
REVIEW OF RAOULS RESTAURANT CLIFTON RD
If there’s one word that springs to mind to describe my experience of this place, then it has to be ‘anticlimax’. Allow me to explain… As you’ve probably gathered by now if youve read any of my other reviews, I’ve grown up in Maida Vale and so these local restaurants/eateries have been pretty much part of my visual landscape for almost two decades now. When you see something over and over day in day out, it begins to weave itself into the tapestry of your life, more than often, being something that you just take for granted, visually that is. Think of any road you may walk down every day in your life. Have you ever stopped to study each and every door and building and object that lies along the way? Because I can assure you, you will be surprised at what you might find. Things you’ve been walking past for years, that you never knew existed. To give a very diluted example of this, I only recently noticed by accident, that each and every black baluster making up the long line of balustrade that runs the full length of Hyde Park adjacent to Rotten Row separating the row from the cycle path, has written on it, names of deceased people. The names are written in black in the same colour as the balustrade, so unless you actually bend over and take a good look at them, it’s hardly noticeable. And this is not advisable, because you will probably end up with your name on one of them too, having been mowed down by one of the oncoming cyclists. Not the best of examples (I can think of loads more, like the river that runs in the air right through Sloane Sq tube station), but still, it illustrates how we just take things for granted, without ever really truly knowing (or more accurately, bothering ourselves to know) what lurks behind the facade that lines our streets.
For me, Raouls cafe was just this; one of the few jewel-like corner-stones that laid the foundations down for the character and soul of the now-ruined Clifton Rd, in Little Venice; along with Vickis cafe (now Molly’s!) across the way, the now non-existent Post office on the corner (the decommissioning of this place was simply a crime), Superfoods, a beautifully quaint, spotless, gleaming 1950’s American styled supermarket (complete with background chiming music) that was gobbled up by Tescos around 2004, Cullens, residing just next door, the perfect antidote to the sterilized feel of commercialized supermarket shopping, and the two newsagents that flanked the supermarkets on either side. Raouls was (and still is) Little Venice’s flagship restaurant. One of it’s remarkable qualities, is that it has this wonderful chameleon-like ability to change it’s form, function and guise during the course of the day. In the mornings (I believe this is the best time to experience what Raouls has to offer), it’s like one of those New York style breakfast bashers, serving up good quality morning grub (so I’ve gathered). At lunchtime it magically turns into a bistro! De-deer! Filled with Little Venician mothers nattering away at each other like there’s no tomorrow, using words like ‘parsimonious’; a smattering of MaidaVale glitterati; local business people etc grabbing a bite to eat whilst simultaneously doing business verbally; and the obligatory local St John’s Wood/Maidavale ‘rich folk’ whiling away their free time (and daddy’s money) whilst casually sipping away at the current fashionable version of a particular style of coffee. Come late afternoon, Raouls suffers a slight bout of multiple-personality-disorder, it doesn’t know which way to turn, having a bit of a problem deciding whether or not to remain as restaurant for the remainder of the day, or slip back into it’s cafeteria attire for a couple of hours or so. Food is available all day, but I think afternoons is teatime here, to be honest. Then in the evening, its full-on restaurant time, right up until last orders which is around 10.30pm to 11pm.
I had a meal here once, through no choice of my own. My father was renovating his house round the corner and it was temporarily gutted out. We’d been living off takeaways for weeks, and were bored of the same ones, so we decided to try Raouls out, reluctantly may I add; for the first time in twenty years. I’d been there a couple of times before with my mum, but just for a glass of wine or something like that, not food. We were late, and so scurried down the hill to try and make it in time. As usual, the place was packed out and really bustling. The sonourous blend of clinking and clanking coupled with the mild roar of alcohol induced conversation completely blasted me the second I opened the front door; not to mention the accompanying gust of stares, and the gust of wind that followed it, blowing my Beatles hairbob into a freshly erected Amy Winehouse bouffant, plastering my innocent looking physiognomy backwards by a millimeter or two, like I had just recovered from a facelift whilst simultaneously accelerating from 0-2000mph in under a second. It was all mouth in there. I thought you’re not supposed to talk with your mouth full whilst eating? If that’s the case, then nobody was eating in there; that is unless Raouls had been hired out to the ventriloquist section of a passing circus act for the evening. It’s true what they say about this place; the focus is more to do with seeing and being seen, than it is with eating haute cuisine, or even mediocre cuisine for that matter.
The food was c**p, man; I swear to god, it was c**p. I beckoned the waitress over to my table and almost had to use neolithic sign language (a concoction of various grunts combined with complicated hand signals) just to convey my order to her, such was the breakdown in communication. So I just ended up pointing to my dishes on the menu. “Okay, I’ll have that one, that one, that one, errrrrrrrr, that one…..that one…….and that one.” She got it all pretty neatly, but then her eyes started to well up and water like she’d just been sprayed with CS gas (restaurant control); I couldn’t figure it out. At first I thought the gasses from my empty stomach had managed to pass up through my wind pipe and annihilate her olfactory nerves, but then she started laughing at me. I asked her what was wrong, and she said “Oh it’s nothing. No one has ever ordered to me like this before.”, which was really sweet. I cheered the poor girl up. She’d obviously been used to taking a load of horse-s – - t all day long from the snobbish clientelle, and my candid approach must’ve been a breath of fresh air for her.
We ordered a variety of dishes, pretty much as much as we could get our hands on; not because we were hungry, but because we were curious to find out what the food was like. I had this huge beefburger, which was absolutely gross. It was vulgar in appearance and looked like a UFO. It didn’t have much taste to it either, which was really really dissapointing. It looked like the spare tyre of one of the delivery trucks. Bland. We had some Calamari dish to start with, which was pretty good, but then again, you’d have to be really bad in the kitchen to mess Calamari up (deep fried squid rings), such is it’s simplicity. There were a couple of dips and fresh bread which were quite nice. I think they actually called all this the Meditreanean Mezes, or something to that effect. Not bad, but again, too simple to get wrong. The fresh bread was nice. There was a dish with a huge duck egg on it, which I enjoyed, but then again, ducks eggs are yummy as standard, so it was bound to taste pretty good. I remember trying my Dad’s dish, but really, whatever it was, I wasn’t impressed. Neither of us were impressed. I was hoping, in a sort of flaggelatory way, to come out of Raouls in tears, ranting and raging, clawing at my dad, demanding to know why he hadn’t been taking me to this place throughout the years. It really wasnt the case. It was very, very dissapointing indeed. To make matters worse, one of the waitresses got jealous because I made the other waitress laugh with my primitive ordering technique. So I had a terrible time trying to order desert from her. The rules stipulated that only one slice of cake was allowed per dish, with a scoop of ice cream. But I wanted more; I wanted to try two or three different flavours of cake (they got a nice selection at the counter), and different scoops of ice cream. But she wasn’t having it, and we started bickering at each other either side of the cake display. I said I wanted three slices of cake and she started waggling her head side to side like Droopy the cartoon character. I think I got my way in the end, but to make her point, the uncooperative person brought three separate plates to my table, with all the different slices of cake that I wanted to try out. The table was filled with cake plates. When I came back from the toilets, I thought my dad had decided to throw a birthday party for himself, to try and cheer himself up. “What the f – - k is going on here?” he demanded to know. “Take it back!!!!!!!! He’s a pig!!!!!!!”, he instructed the waitress. “No!!!!!” I said. “I want to have my cake and eat it!!!!! Leave it!!!!! Leave my cake!!!!”. I ate everything… All the cake, all the ice cream, I ate the whole god damn lot, damn it. I had turned into ‘Mediocre Man’. My belly was filled with mediocrity. I felt like saving someone. Mediocre Man to the rescue!!!!!
I think to be fair, Raouls is all about location and style. In the summer time its lovely; there’s scores of tables stretched right round the side of the building, and without doubt, this alfresco dining scenario really does add a wonderful villagy atmosphere to the surrounding vicinity. I think if you’re a regular here, you will know instinctively what to order, from experience… I’ve heard the eggs are a winner, as is the coffee, the cakes….. And I believe the all-in-one salads are a good choice too (for ladies who lunch of course).
A word of warning though, the staircase leading down to the toilets is quite literally a deathtrap. I think the only reason the staff are all foreign nationals, is because they are all Eastern European gymnasts who have been selected, hand picked by Madame herself (the pretty blond chick that hovers around the place), the Raouls owner, to specifically master the staircase leading downstairs. They have learnt cookery and waitering as secondary skills. Primarily, they are gymnasts by profession. You simply cannot go up and down that staircase all day long, day in day out, without having some sort of gymnastic ability, that is for sure.
I noted the gathering at the table next to us seemed to be having a whale of a time, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they were shoveling horse s – - t into their mouths. They were sophisticated 50yo-something mixed gender semi-pseudo-intellectuals, sort of like Germaine Greer wannabes. I swear they were eating the same stuff as us. That was undoubtedly the highlight of our meal, watching my father get progressively more and more disgruntled and irate, as their table, and them along with it, somehow magically began floating towards us. It got to a point where my father had to hold his hand out like he was making a left turn, just to gesticulatingly put it across to them that they were invading his personal airspace. Don’t ask me how they did it. Maybe the table legs were on wheels. Maybe it was all that hot air that was coming out of their mouths. Or perhaps they had eaten one too many of the infamous Raouls ‘glow-in-the-dark, fluorescent-orange, organic-free-range, lactose-intolerant, cholesterol-free, one-of-your-50-a-day, low-in-saturated-fats, high-in lactophilosophogusaustralopithicusrobustushowsyafatherishestillwiththemissuscantaffordthemortgageohfukdis gut-friendly-bacterium eggs, and had synchronized themselves with a makeshift performance of ’Flatulence in F Minor’ beneath their dining room table. I told you it was a circus act didn’t I? That was undoubtedly the piece de resistance, the grand finale, colliding with the hovering Greers….
Oh well. All that glistens isn’t gold. But I think Raouls will always have a special place in my heart, as that fancy restaurant on Clifton Rd I used to cycle past everyday as a kid, dreaming of perhaps maybe one day, being one of the lucky ones sat inside it…
6-8 Bute Street, South Kensington, London SW7 3EX
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this place used to be called Rotisserie Jules a couple of years ago? And judging by the pics on their website, I think it's just had a name change, as the Chickens are still seen rolling around on that big spit behind the counter, and the decor inside the restaurant is exactly the same; they've just dropped the Jules, that's all.
This place is just awesome. The food is served faster than most fast-food places, and is healthier than most health-food places. It's healthy fast-food personified. The menu revolves around freshly spit-roasted Chickens (it's essentially what they are known for), but they also dabble with pre-ordered cuts of Lamb (and even Beef!). But it is the Chickens that you see mostly flying out of this place on a regular basis. They make a point of letting you know which breed of Chicken it is as well, like Bantam-something? I dunno the correct name, but I know it sounds like Bantam-weight in boxing (that's how I remember); I think it was Bantam-Blacks. It's most certainly 'free-range' if that's what you need to know. And one mouthful of it will confirm this straight away.
Whole, half, quarters, or in a freshly baked baguette; choosing your cut of Chicken is straight forward. And with the baguetted-Chicken, comes fries that will put any burger-joint to shame; cracked black pepper, and a couple of sachets of creamy mayonnaise completes the ensemble, making for a mouth-drippingly delicious meal/snack or whatever you want to make of it. So simple, so delicious; and at £4.75 is insultingly cheap. It can be quite messy mind you, as when you order the whole cuts of Chicken, you have the option of having it with or without 'gravy' and this inevitably means a bit of splashing about here and there during transit and upon the opening of the plastic containers (which are very nice and well thought-out in function). There is also a wide range of 'sauces' available for you to mix 'n' match (or as they like to refer to them as 'sources', haha), watch out for the 'Babeque' sauce!!! One mouthful of that, and you'll have a queue of babes waiting for you, stretched right around the block. The Babeque effect!!!
If you check out the menu, the 'side dishes' seem to go on forever, with the modest unsuspecting Potato making it's appearance in various fanciful guises. Ditto with the veggies and salads too (there's more than you can shake a stick at). They also do three or four desserts, a couple of chocolate ones, and some Ice cream if you like, so you really can make of a meal of it if you want to, at this place.
Although there is ample seating inside Rotisserie, I do feel that they would rather serve you at home, and take great pride in their delivery service (which they do very well indeed). Everything can be ordered and paid-for online (courtesy of Just-Eat), or via their own website ( http://www.rotisseriebutestreet.com ). Dunno if he's still there, but they used to have an extremely moody delivery driver, whose moodiness seemed to be very offensive at first, but after having experienced a few deliveries, it became obvious that this was his natural disposition, and so it became comical from then on. You thought your partner was moody?! Wait till you meet the Rotisserie deliveryman!!! (if he's still there!!!)
Rotisserie is a blueprint for which all other restaurant delivery services should base their model on. Freshly cooked tasty food, efficient delivery service, and extremely affordable prices. What more could you possibly ask for?
121 Earl's Court Road, Earls Court, London SW5 9RL
09-05-2013 (updated on 15-05-2013)
Addie's Thai is an Urban Legend; and for good reason too. They've been here since 1987, and are still going strong; not surprising, as they've perfected the art of serving Oriental fast food that places the sole priority of satisfying the eater's tastebuds first, way before everything else. It's all about the flavour; there are no corners cut here when it comes to tending to the tongue. The flavours are over-the-top, massively indulgent, satiating, animated in appearance, glutinous, and gluttonous; a real treat, leaving the mouth awash with pure satisfaction, with lips curled up at the side in sheer delight.
When it boils down to it, 'Oriental delivery/takeaways' are a treat really, aren't they? You don't eat this type of food to get healthy, do you? You eat it because it tastes good; it tastes different; it's the opposite of boring isn't it? 'Boring' is boiling a pot of pasta and adding some ground beef to it to turn it into a Spaghetti Bolognese; 'fun' is picking up the phone after a few drinks and having a bit of a bubbly chinwag with the restauranteur, then setting the stop-watch before frantically scurrying around the house like the Tasmanian devil, trying to find some cash (with a fictitious elongated 30-min Countdown theme-tune building up in your head), or for the more sadistic of you, gleefully laying in wait until the order has been relayed, then reveling in the tremendous joy of hearing that ever-so-slight woefully sounding sigh as you connivingly state to the person on the other end of the line "I'd like to pay by card please."; the cheap thrill you get and the goosebumps that cover your forearms when the front doorbell goes, "it's here!!!"; the ceremonial '2001 A Space Odyssey'-styled 'opening of the front door' to greet the spaceman who smells of traffic (who's already reaching out to hand you a big plastic bag filled with your steaming goodyness); the expectation of it all; the pulling of the dishes out one by one from of the bag and trying to figure out what is what and who's is who's; the lid-popping; the sniffing; the obligatory "I didn't order this!?" comment regardless of the whether or not it was what you ordered; the tucking-in, the munching-with-no-manners, the burping, the small-talk, the guzzling of the fizzy drink right at the end; the playing of 'kitchen-basketbal' with the kitchen bin and the empty containers; and then finally, the last act, the waddling over to the sofa and slumping down in it like a Walrus auditioning for a part in the 'Royle Family'.
There's a whole culture involved isn't there? It's an operatic act starting right from the second you pick up the phone. And with Addie's Thai, you are not just 'ordering a takeaway', you are buying a ticket or two for this Oriental opera, that will provide you with the classic takeaway/delivery experience, from start to finish.
As soon as the call is answered, you are greeted by the ever-chirpy, effusively attentive, heart-warmingly friendly host, a lady who's name I have forgotten, who, regardless of the weather, will cheer you up no-end, and by the second call, will know your first name and your favourite dishes off by heart. Slightly lascivious in nature, if you are male, do not be put off by what may seem like flirtatious behaviour; it all adds to the Addie's experience. This is the time to practice some sexual innuendo jokes, or any joke for that matter. The phone-calling here reminds me of communicating with male Air Stewards on British Airways flights; it's got that similar sort of tongue-in-cheek Carry-on style of tone to it.
And when the food arrives, you will have no trouble whatsoever with their extremely efficient, polite, methodical delivery staff; have no fear, there won't be any "Hey, how's it going geezer?! Did ya watch tha footy?!" small-talk here, nor any off-putting 'huffs and puffs' from peeved-off drivers, as the Addie's delivery crew are like commandos, straight in, straight out, "hi and bye" is all you get (if that), and that's it. For the more frugal of you out there, rest assured, you will not encounter any 'Oxfam eyes' from the driver, as the passing-over of the food is complete, but I always tip anyway, so personal preference is key here.
The food is gorgeous. I quickly became an Addie's addict circa 2006/2007, when I was living in an apartment block in South Kensington, and had the good fortune of coming across one of their menus they had left on the counter of the reception down in the lobby. The rest is history. I was ordering at least three times a week from them, and quickly became a regular... Alas, I am no longer an addict now, as I went into re-hab (moved 'north of the park'), and as they don't deliver too far from their base-camp, their food is something I will not have the pleasure of experiencing any time soon.
Phad Thai: 'Alice in Wonderland'-styled appearance of this staple Thai dish, with whopping chunks of all the ingredients crammed into the container, with the lid literally bursting at its seams. Almost looks alive. Chunky prawns, thick wahds of egg-streaks, beansprouts, crushed nuts, you name it, it's all there (choice of Chicken/Pork/Veg/Prawns). Don't forget to mix it up as it comes with chili powder and other condiments that need to be blended into the mix. It has a remarkably addictive fishy taste to it, and once you've had the first mouthful, your arm involuntarily goes into 'industrial revolution mode' and you start shoveling it into your mouth at an ever-increasing rate. Too delicious. Ought to come with a speed-limit warning on the container 'SPEED LIMIT - 3 mouthfuls per minute'.
Grilled Neck End Pork: It's not very often you get to devour half a Pig's neck whenever you order an Oriental takeaway/delivery; but with this dish, that's pretty much exactly what you get. Unbelievably chewy slices of Pork, which are all lined up in their original pre-cut formation, so you can see the extent of the slab of meat. Tantalizingly tasty. Quite spicy as well, but has some kind of unique Thai style spiciness to it, as opposed to the usual 'chili-sauce type of heat'. Pure heaven for meat-lovers. Comes with the chargrilled marks on it too!!!
Starters: They do a selection of miniature filled pastry styled starters, which are pretty small and dainty, but are tasty nonetheless. They have two 'platters', the 'normal' version and a 'Royal' version (or in your case Royle), and I could never be bothered to learn the difference between the two, so I just ordered both of them and beed done with it. Watch out, coz there's a bucket load of fat here as it is all deep-fried...
Fish dishes: Being a Thai restaurant, fish is prominent on the menu, and there are a couple of dishes that stand out here. I can't remember the exact name, but there's a mixed-fish dish that comes with a gigantic mussel, a bunch of other seafoods, and includes a slab of battered fish. It's a medley of pure unadulterated fishyness; basically a fish-tank without the tank. It's the sauce that makes all the difference here; like a syrupy, slightly spicy, slightly sweet, slightly sour kind of flavour, that just leaves you slurping it up like there's no tomorrow. Careful of the shells!!!
Grilled stuff: Along with the grilled neck-end Pork, they grill a few other things as well, most notably some King prawns, which inevitably take on the wonderful smokey charred flavour from whatever it is that they are grilling it on (it has to be some kind of charcoal BBQ); the black char-lines are testament to that. It's like you're starring in your own Fosters ad with this one, "Chuck a couple of shrimps on tha barbie willya Addie. Toodles."
Addie's Thai, the legend lives on...
134 Finchley Road, Camden, London NW3 5HS
23-03-2013 (updated on 11-05-2013)
Such was the force of this tongue-lashing, that he literally took my breath away, and brought the somewhat empty canteen to an audio-standstill. He'd been forced (as was I) to eavesdrop on the pseudo-intellectual lecture that this other middle-aged Englishman was relentlessly giving to the oriental owner of the Oriental Star, at the counter, and had seemingly had enough of it, feeling the need to put this other man into place and correct him on his knowledge of the Monarchy but more specifically, the powers that her Royal Highness the Queen of England actually possesses.......But before he lashed out at that tilted grandfather clock that had been drowning our ears with his monotonous misinformative drool for half an hour straight, he made sure that he had gobbled up all of the Chinese food that he had laid out in front of him on his tray. Not surprising really, as the food here is truly scrumptious. This man was in the know, for both Order-in-Council, and Order-in-Oriental-Star.
I was always aware of Oriental Star's presence, as you can't really miss it, being slap bang right in the middle of the Finchley Rd, half way up Swiss Cottage, right opposite Waitrose, the Finchley Rd tube station and the local southbound bus-stop.... But I never really liked it's appearance. It had/has a slightly cheapish, faux, tacky look to it, sort of Legoland meets Mc Donalds, plasticky appearance, reminds me of the Generation game, or like Argos for food or something... The opposite of authentic, like you just got the feeling that they weren't really serving proper Chinese food in there..... Well let me tell you, never judge a book by it's cover, as this canteen's lousy mock-like appearance does not do any justice whatsoever to the great quality food it serves up. Even after my first daytime meal, which I had one afternoon whilst happening to be in the area, I still didn't really clock what this place was about; I wasn't impressed to be honest.... It was only after a few deliveries, that I started to really appreciate the quality of their food. You have to 'get it', if you know what I mean.
Their food is very simple, and very straight forward. You see all the familiar Chinese classics there on the menu, but all the flair has been stripped from the presentation and promise, with barely an inkling of Chinese exoticness clinging onto the kitchen's fodder. This is where the term 'canteen' kicks into play... It's not really a restaurant; it's a self-serve canteen. You place your order at the counter and pay for it, get a little ticket with a number on it, then when your food is ready, they ding a bell and present you with a wooden tray, with nice bluey-white oriental porcelain-style tupperware arranged on it, containing your chosen dishes, sort of like 'high-school' meets 'Chinese open prison' meets 'Alan Titchmarsh' meets 'adult education after-hours origami center' on the Finchley Rd. You then carry your own tray to one of the communal tables, and start eating there. There are some great window-seats where you can watch the hustle and bustle go by, or if you prefer, a choice of high-perch tables and low-perch tables. There is communal soy and communal chili sauce on each table, for you to drizzle about at will.
The food is somewhat excellent. The simplicity of each dish opens up the doors to clean, clear-cut flavours, ones that hit all the right notes at all the right times, showcasing what each dish is supposed to really look like, and taste like, without the bells and whistles. There's no pretentiousness here; they're showing you how it's done; simplistically.
Check out these dishes:
1) Singapore Noodles: They absolutely nail this one down to the spot, to a T. Light fluffy stringy yellowy noodles, scattered with the correct dosage and correctly-sized prawn/meat/veg pellet-sized filling-ingredients. The overall taste is perfectly balanced, and moreish to say the least. Almost perfect?
2) Sweet and Sour Pork: Truly scrumptious. The pork pieces are just a bit on the small side (would be incredible to have this but with larger chunks of Pork), but the chewy batter and tangy/fruity sauce just scores 10 across the board. Almost faultless?
3) Crispy Duck - They have their own Duck-cooking oven right there in the kitchen!!! It's sort of like a massive cauldron-shaped urn which they hang the Ducks in to cook over night. The results speak for themselves. Check out the Crispy Duck with pancakes, and you will find that even the quarter-sized portion is dripping with ducky juicyness; not oiliness or greasiness may I add, just pure succulency. They've got this one on lockdown, for sure.
4) Crispy Shredded Chili Beef - Okay, well now my mouth is actually starting to water, and I am swallowing at a much higher rate than normal, as I type. This is definitely one of the trickiest dishes for any restaurant to make really well, and I dunno what their secret is, but this is without a shadow of doubt, the finest most consistently rewarding Crispy Shredded Chili Beef I have ever had in my life!!! You can also do a trick with the lid on the container, to alter the texture/chewiness of the Beef strips. Keep the lid closed for about 5-10 minutes, and the strips end up mega-chewy. Leave the lid off as soon as they serve it, and they are ultra-crunchy, similar to that of Nik Naks. Just the right amount of Carrot slivers..... And the sauce is just so mouthwateringly delish, I could quite easily eat four or five of these portions on the trot, and will probs still be begging for more.
5) Various rices - They do a good Egg fried rice, a Prawn version, which is also quite pleasing, and a 'House Special', which at something ridiculously cheap like £3.50, comes in a large round container loaded with slabs of Pork, Chicken, Beef, Prawn, you name it, all squashed down onto a hefty bed of rice. If you need a quick do-it-all food-fix, and time (and money) is of the essence, order this one and be done with it. I prefer the Egg rice to the Prawn rice, as the Prawn one has an ever-so-slight haunting of an unwanted slightly unfamiliar flavour (which I don't know what it is), but this can easily be masked with a splash of Soy sauce, so no worries there.
6) Salt N Pepper Chili Squid - Quite crunchy these ones are, and fairly small, but pack a decent punch and have loads of chili warmth and garlic on tap to satisfy the taste-buds. I would prefer them slightly oilier, but that's just my preference. The lid-trick doesn't seem to work on these suckers!!! Not as well as it does on the Crispy Chili Beef.... These are best eaten half way through the meal, as an addition, when the mouth is already coated in an oiliness from the other dishes (as opposed to on their own as a starter); or alternatively you could play a neat trick here, by burying them underneath one of the noodle dishes, or soaking them in the sauce of one of the runnier dishes, allowing the fairly tough batter to soak up some of the juice to soften them up a bit. Just an idea, because they are quite crunchy/tough.
7) Mixed Vegetable stir-fry - Just really nice; got all the baby Corns, Mange-touts, bits and bobs etc, Water Chestnut I think, button mushrooms, the whole selection, all evenly soaked in a very tasty broth-like sauce. Nice and light, and can easily be incorporated into a heavy meal, without filling you up, to give you your daily dosage of veg...
The menu is easily categorized, into Duck dishes, Prawn dishes, Pork dishes etc.... and you see the same linear combinations over and over for each category, which might seem boring at first, but once you discover which ones are your favourite, this methodically bland format becomes visually irrelevant anyway. I am not 100 percent sure, but I have a funny feeling that they either use no MSG or very limited amounts of it in the preparation of their food.... As their food has a wholesome, Mum's cookin' style to it; like you don't get that guilty 'takeaway feeling' after eating one of their meals; you sort of feel like you've eaten healthy, if you know what I mean...
And the icing on the cake? Cheaper than cheap..... Gobsmackingly, insultingly, eye-poppingly, rub-your-eyes-ingly cheap.
They do delivery on moped within at least a 2-mile radius, and the food is always hot throughout.
One thing I have noticed about Oriental Star, and my prejudice as a whole to the mere thought of ordering from them on a regular basis, is that just like my first dining experience I had with them, the incentive to pick up the phone and order from them is never really there.... I don't know why; but it obviously has something to do with the complete absence of the 'wow factor' that Chinese food inherently bestows upon people, and what it is essentially known for in the culinary world.... There's a reluctancy on my part to grab their menu before reaching for someone elses, and no matter how many times I eat their food, I am always completely and utterly bowled over by sheer delight; and most always semi-rhetorically ask myself at the end of the meal "why don't I eat their stuff more often?!"
So it seems that in this case, a book's cover does play a part in things after-all....
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